Golf is definitely one of those sports where input delivers output. In some sports, natural talent will allow you to succeed at a certain level, but golf requires practice to improve beyond the weekend hacker status. Every phase of the game requires the honing of skill level, and improvement brings more fun and enjoyment to the game.
The Driving Range
Golf being an individual sport allows the freedom to go to the range alone and get some serious practice through the bag. Unfortunately, too often it is used as a place to go and “pound” the driver with the emphasis on distance. Another everyday scene is a player hitting balls as if he were on a shooting range on automatic fire! Standing on the range for a long period of time can become boring, and can actually damage rather than improve your game. If you are one of those golfers, then this article will improve the fun and enhance your skill level.
Another very important point is the sequence in which the practice session is started. Don’t just pull the driver. Depending on the time available, allocate your time to the area or areas that are the weakest in your game as the priority.
Ideally, any session should be started with short wedge shots to establish rhythm and feel. Think of it as warming up before your weekend game.
Practice Games on the Range
Trying to duplicate the scenarios experienced on the golf course, is the best way to practice. Below are a few games that will help.
Playing Your Home Course
The easiest and possibly the most important game is to play your home course from 1 to 18. Visualize each fairway before you play the hole, taking into account the wind, hazards, and trees if they apply. Now set the parameters on the range for each shot as you play the hole. An important point is to rate each shot after it is played and estimate whether your next shot is from the fairway or the rough! Select the club you would have to play based on distance and terrain to negotiate. If the opening hole is a par 5, make the choice to lay up or attack the green.
Most driving ranges have targets or small greens at different distances and use these for approach shots. If you don’t know the distance on each hole at your course, take an old card to verify them. The trick to this game is “brutal” honesty in evaluating each shot. If you feel you have over-clubbed and missed the green, play a chip shot to a short target in front of you. The only part of the round you won’t play is putting. Based on your approach shots give yourself a 2 or 1 putt. Total your score and if you have a mate on the tee with you, this is an awesome game. Play for drinks or a snack after practice!
The Driver is the longest and most difficult club to master in the bag. On the range, don’t only think about distance, but concentrate on accuracy. Learn to master the high and low tee shots, and don’t shy away from practicing in the wind. Select your parameters on the practice range and hit 10 drives onto the fairway. Now try 5 high and 5 low shots. Next, learn to draw or fade the ball to the intended target. This will improve your ability on doglegs out on the course. Practicing with a friend can add value to these exercises as each of you can rate one another’s shots, say out of 10! The loser buys the drinks. One point about driving the ball. Don’t only aim for the fairway, but rather select a landing area on the fairway. This helps you be more target-oriented!
Long Irons, Hybrids, and Fairway Woods
The ability to hit these clubs consistently and accurately will lower your scores on the track. They allow you to attack par 5s and long par 4s, which is an exciting part of golf.
Learn to hit them high, low, and with a draw or a fade. Visualize playing doglegs on the range and attempt to hit the shape you intended. Rate each shot out of 10 and keep notes.
Middle Irons-5 to 7
These irons combined with the short irons and wedges are the scoring irons in the bag. Control the flight, shape, accuracy, and spin on these clubs and the game will become much easier. They should be your favorite clubs. Practice them in the wind, and learn to hit “punch” shots on the range. Go down the shaft and take half-swings to hit the ball 80-meters.
Short Irons and Wedges
To get to a single-figure golfer, the short irons and the wedges are the route! On the range practice hitting all of them to a target 100-meters away. Hit them high, low, and with sidespin. A great game is to set 3 different distance targets on the range and play 3 balls to each target, with each of the clubs. This is a control game and will challenge your skill level. Professionals spend many hours on these clubs and so should all amateurs. When hitting the ball badly during a round of golf, these clubs will save your round. One of the biggest problems with amateurs, is they try to hit these clubs too hard. Remember these are accuracy clubs, so swing smoothly for best results.
Gap and Lob Wedges
The Gap wedge is designed to fill those distances perfectly between the pitching wedge and the sand wedge. Normally about 3 to 4-degrees of loft is the difference. Knowing this should alleviate the pressure when confronted with an approach shot of an awkward distance. Practice chipping with this club and with the other wedges to determine how far the ball rolls out after hitting the green. Put a towel on the green and try to land the ball on it. These games or exercises will bring more enjoyment to your short game practice sessions.
The Lob wedge is a club that requires many, many hours to master, and most mid to high handicap golfers’ scores will be destroyed rather than improved with this club in the bag. The lie on the fairway or rough should be “sitting up” before contemplating using this club. A good practice game is to place a bunker between the ball and the green and try to hit a lofted shot that checks and stops close to the hole. The difficulty with the lob wedge is gauging the distance it will fly through the air after been struck with more clubhead speed than a sand wedge or gap wedge for the same distance.
It is a “touch” shot with a high degree of danger close to the green, especially over water! My advice is to practice the same shots with a sand or gap wedge.
An area where many amateurs struggle is in the sand bunkers. It is the only shot in golf that allows you to hit behind the ball, to achieve good results. Professional golfers wear out wedges from practicing and change them almost on a monthly basis.
Start by dropping 10 balls randomly into a greenside bunker. The objective is to hit each shot within one putt range, or hole it! When this is achieved, drop balls onto a downslope or upslope in the same bunker. These are the tricky shots and confidence with these will lower your scores dramatically. Don’t get despondent on these, but keep trying for a one-putt distance. “Fried Egg” lies should also be practiced, and all these shots played against a mate, will bring plenty of fun and improve your bunker play.
Practicing shots from fairway bunkers into the green is a really important shot in golf. Challenge your friends to see who gets closest to the green or lands on the green is great fun. Bunker shots from 10-meters to 30-meters out from the green are one of the most difficult shots to play consistently. Win this game and make some cash from your mate!
Putting is the easiest of the games to practice, but is the least mid-handicap players spend time on, mainly because it is boring compared the hitting the driver. Remind yourself continually, that a half a meter putt, counts the same as a 250-meter drive!
There are many games that can be played on the practice putting green, either on your own or with friends.
1. Select 18-holes to play around the green, and keep score. Make it interesting by including putts with slope or downhill fast putts. Vary the distance on each hole, so speed control becomes a factor. If with your mates, always have a side-bet on the game to increase the pressure.
2. The Clock. Place golf balls equidistant and surrounding the hole. Start at 1-meter and see if you can hole every ball. This is a fantastic way to improve confidence from just outside the “ gimme” distance. On the course, with a few bets riding, this is the area that will win you more games than you lose! Increase the distance slightly, and try again. Ideally, these putts should not all be on flat terrain but have an element of a slope.
3. Lag-Putting. If you only have limited time before a round of golf, especially on a strange course, this is what you should spend a few minutes practicing. Speed on any putt is the crucial element. On the practice range green, set yourself targets from 30, 20, or 10-meters from the hole. Place 3 balls at each distance and see if you can achieve a maximum of 2-putts throughout.
4. Slope-Putting. Start with 5 balls within a meter of the hole, but with either left to right, or right to left slope. Knock all 5 in and then increase the distance slightly. Should you miss any putt, revert to the original starting distance. This is a great concentration game and can take a long time if not in the zone! For right-hand putters, the left to right putt is the most difficult, so spend time perfecting your stroke.
Some golfers love practicing on a golf driving range and can spend hours honing their game. Results are the motivator, but turning the range sessions into games, can be another method of motivating players to spend time working on their game. Golfers should take a notepad to the range, and each facet of the practice session should be written down, for later comparison and analysis. Keeping score is a fun way of improving and competing against a friend for a few bucks or bragging rites.
Try it and see for yourself!
Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.